Inside the Barnett Bank and Laura Trio

Metro Jacksonville takes a look inside a historic collection of buildings in the heart of downtown: The Barnett National Bank and Laura Trio buildings. (originally published June 4, 2010) Remind yourself what the buildings have been like for more than a decade just before they get redeveloped! Congratulations Downtown!

Published April 5, 2014 in History -

Barnett National Bank

112 West Adams Street
Date: 1926
Architects: Mowbray & Uffinger-New York
Builder: James Stewart Company-New York

Barnett National Bank's growth followed Jacksonville's skyline. It was founded in 1877 by William B. Barnett and his son Bion, as the Barnett Bank, with $40,000 in working capital. Within four years, it became the largest bank in Florida. Its name was changed in 1888 to National Bank of Jacksonville and in 1908 to Barnett National Bank. The bank grew steadily over its first fifty years, necessitating the construction of this $1,500,000 banking and office center in 1926, which remained the tallest building in Jacksonville until the Prudential Building was constructed in 1954.  Mowbray & Uffinger, nationally known bank architects from New York, designed it; and the contractor was the James Stewart Co., which constructed Madison Square Garden in New York and the Mitsui Bank in Tokyo, then the largest bank building in the world.  The Barnett National Bank Building is handsomely proportioned and reflects the eclectic influences of commercial architectural styles of the 1920's.  A two-story arcade faced with limestone makes up the street-level facade, and the building is topped with double-arched windows and a parapet with obelisks.  A series of lion heads between the third and fourth stories are among the other interesting details.

Source: Page 33, Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage Landmarks For The Future

NEXT PAGE: The Bisbee Building

Bisbee Building

47 West Forsyth Street
Date: 1908-1909
Architect: Henry J. Klutho
Builders: Southern Ferro Concrete Company and W.T. Hadlow & Company

This building was originally constructed to be only twenty-six feet wide, one-half of its present width. The novelty of its being Jacksonville's first "skyscraper" made the office space highly sought after, and the building was completely rented before construction was finished. Thus the owner, William A. Bisbee, directed the architect H.J. Klutho to double the size of the building. The east wall of the original narrow tower was removed and an additional vertical section was added, resulting in its present configuration. The ten-story building was Florida's first reinforced-concrete frame high-rise office building.  According to Klutho, this system was so new that the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company refused to make a construction loan until full engineering data were submitted, and their own architect was dispatched to Jacksonville to go over the figures.  The Forsyth Street facade is faced with polished limestone and terra-cotta, and features broad plate glass "Chicago-style" windows, a copper cornice, and various abstract geometric ornaments.  This building is an early example of Klutho's affinity for the high-rise architectural concepts that were pioneered in Chicago.

Source: Page 60, Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage Landmarks For The Future

NEXT PAGE: The Florida Life Building.

Florida Life Building

117 North Laura Street
Date: 1911 - 1912
Architect: Henry J. Klutho
Builder: Frank Richardson

Construction on this building began a month after the start of Klutho's St. James Building (city hall), and it was completed two months before.  Both buildings were constructed of reinforced concrete.  The architect was no doubt very proud and busy to have two such great architectural works rising simultaneously on the city's skyline.  Although the Florida Life Building was Jacksonville's tallest for less than a year, it was and perhaps still is Jacksonville's purest statement of a "skyscraper."  It is a narrow, beautifully proportioned tower that soars vertically, giving an impression of being much taller than its actual eleven-story height.  The lower two stories form the tower's base, richly adorned with glazed terra-cotta and originally featuring a suspended glass canopy over the building's entrance, similar to that of the St. James Building.  Broad plate glass Chicago-style windows accentuate the Forsyth Street facade, drawing the eye upward along the slender pilasters to a crowning burst of terra-cotta scrollwork, which in turn supports an ornate copper cornice and a parapet.  The dramatic scrolled capitals at the top of the pilasters are evolved from the intricate ornamentation used by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who is credited with being the "father of the skyscraper."  The Florida Life Building fulfills Sullivan's definition of a skyscraper perhaps as well as any building ever constructed by Sullivan himself: "It must be tall, every inch of it tall.  The force and power of altitude must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exhaltation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a dissenting line."  In 1914, a penthouse was added -- "a pretty little three-room cottage" -- and the rooftop was landscaped with grass and shrubbery.  This was built as a residence for C.E. Clark, secretary of the Peninsula Casualty Company, which had its offices below and which was the sister company of the Florida Life Insurance Company, owner of the building. Klutho's majestic  skyscraper outlasted the Florida Life Insurance Company, which went bankrupt in 1915.

Source: Page 68, Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage Landmarks For The Future

NEXT PAGE: The Old Florida National Bank (the Marble Bank) Interior.

Old Florida National Bank (Marble Bank)

51 West Forsyth Street
Date: 1902
Architect: Edward H. Glidden
Builder: M.T. Hallowes & Co.

Like the adjacent Bisbee Building, this bank was originally constructed with the facade half as wide as it is today. Built in 1902 as the Mercantile Exchange Bank, it was purchased three years later by the newly organized Florida Bank & Trust, the forerunner of today's Florida National Bank chain. The new banking firm expanded the building to its present size, retaining the Neo-Classical Revival style. The entire facade is sheathed in marble, including six massive columns also made of marble. In 1916 the interior of the building was completely gutted and redesigned by the New York architecture firm of Mowbray and Uffinger. A grand banking room was created, complete with a spectacular skylight, coffered ceiling, and classical plaster detailing, at a cost of $135,000. During the 1950's two dropped ceilings that covered the skylight and plaster ornamentation were added. In 1978 the Jacksonville National Bank, then owner of the building, commissioned architect Robert Broward to guide the restoration of the interior to its 1916 splendor. The false ceilings were removed, the skylight was uncovered, and the beautiful plaster detailing was once again revealed.

Source: Page 61, Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage Landmarks For The Future

Photographs by Daniel Herbin and Ennis Davis

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